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Rodgers v. Reno Police Department

United States District Court, D. Nevada

May 21, 2019

Hersy Rodgers, The Plaintiff,
Reno Police Department, Washoe County District Attorney's Office, Defendants.


          Robert C. Jones, United States District Judge.

         Before the Court is The Plaintiff's application to proceed in forma pauperis. (ECF No. 1). Based on the information regarding The Plaintiff's financial status, the Court finds that The Plaintiff is not able to pay an initial installment payment toward the full filing fee pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915. The Plaintiff will, however, be required to make monthly payments toward the full $350.00 filing fee when he has funds available.


         Federal courts must conduct a preliminary screening in any case where a court grants in forma pauperis. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). In its review, the court must identify any cognizable claims and dismiss any claims that are frivolous or malicious, or that fail to state a claim upon which relief may be granted or seek monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)(1)(2). All or part of the complaint may be dismissed sua sponte if the Plaintiff's claims lack an arguable basis in law or fact. This includes claims based on legal conclusions that are untenable, like claims against defendants who are immune from suit or claims of infringement of a legal interest which clearly does not exist, as well as claims based on fanciful factual allegations or fantastic or delusional scenarios. See Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 327- 28 (1989); see also McKeever v. Block, 932 F.2d 795, 798 (9th Cir. 1991).

         Dismissal for failure to state a claim is proper only if it is clear that the Plaintiff cannot prove any set of facts in support of the claim that would entitle him or her to relief. See Morley v. Walker, 175 F.3d 756, 759 (9th Cir. 1999). In making this determination, the court takes all allegations of material fact as true and construes them in the light most favorable to the Plaintiff. See Warshaw v. Xoma Corp., 74 F.3d 955, 957 (9th Cir. 1996). Allegations of a pro se complainant are held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers, but a plaintiff must provide more than mere labels and conclusions. Hughes v. Rowe, 449 U.S. 5, 9 (1980); see Balistreri v. Pacifica Police Dep't, 901 F.2d 696, 699 (9th Cir. 1990) (recognizing that pro se pleadings must be liberally construed); see also Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). “While legal conclusions can provide the framework of a complaint, they must be supported with factual allegations.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009). “Determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief . . . [is] a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.” Id.


         Here the Plaintiff sues Reno Police Department and Washoe County District Attorney's office under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging that the Defendants racially discriminated, wrongfully imprisoned, and unlawfully arrested the Plaintiff. To state a claim under Section 1983, a the Plaintiff must allege two essential elements: (1) that a violation of a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States was violated, and (2) that the alleged deprivation was committed by a person acting under the color of state law.

         Prosecutors enjoy absolute immunity and cannot be civilly liable for performance of their duties no matter how severe their misconduct may be. Imbler v. Pachtman, 424 U.S. 409, 427 (1976). Accordingly, the Court dismisses Washoe County District Attorney's office with prejudice from this case as no amendment can make the prosecutors civilly liable.

         On the other hand, the police department may be liable, but the Plaintiff has not alleged sufficient facts to survive a dismissal of the case. To state a claim against a municipality under Section 1983, the Plaintiff must allege facts to support that his constitutional rights were violated due to a policy or custom of the municipality. Corez v. County of Los Angeles, 294 F.3d 1186, 1188 (9th Cir. 2001). Therefore, a plaintiff cannot state a Section 1983 claim against a municipal defendant unless he alleges that the municipal defendant maintained a policy or custom pertinent to the Plaintiff's alleged injury and explains how such a policy or custom caused his injury. Sadoski v. Mosley, 435 F.3d 1076, 1080 (9th Cir. 2006). The Plaintiff has failed to identify any policy or custom that led to any of his claims.

         Turning specifically to the Plaintiff's individual claims against the police department, in order to state a claim of unlawful arrest under Section 1983, the Plaintiff needs to allege: (1) that the he was arrested, (2) that the police officers did not have probable cause, and (3) that the police officers actions were motivated by a policy of the municipality (as stated above). Lacey v. Maricopa Cnty., 693 F.3d 896, 918 (9th Cir. 2012). Here, the Plaintiff did allege that he was arrested, but has offered no facts to support a finding that a policy motivated the alleged violation or that there was a lack of probable cause.

         Next, racial discrimination is actionable under Section 1983 against a police department when it amounts to a violation of equal protection and the violation was motivated by a policy of the municipality. In order to state this claim, the Plaintiff needs to allege: (1) that the police officer(s) acted in a discriminatory manner, (2) that the discrimination was intentional, and (3) that the police officer(s) were motivated by a policy of the police department. Reese v. Jefferson Sch. Dist. No. 14J, 208 F.3d 736, 740 (9th Cir. 2000). Again, the Plaintiff has failed to allege the sufficient facts to support a finding of this claim. The Plaintiff needs to assert facts with particularity to support a finding of these elements against the police department. The Plaintiff claims that he was charged with felon in possession, because he is black. However, in Nevada, a police department does not have authority over who is charged and with what crime. Cairns v. Sheriff, Clark Cty., 89 Nev. 113, 115 (1973) (“The matter of the prosecution of any criminal case is within the entire control of the district attorney . . . .”) (citing Nev. Rev. Stat. § 173.045; Nev. Rev. Stat. § 252.110).

         Lastly, the Plaintiff sues for “wrongful imprisonment, ” however, this does not neatly fit into a Section 1983 action. Inasmuch, as the Plaintiff is arguing that he should not be imprisoned, the Plaintiff must file a habeas corpus action. A Section 1983 action is not a proper remedy for a prisoner seeking damages for “harm caused by actions whose unlawfulness would render a conviction or sentence invalid.” Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477, 486 (1994). That is, if a judgment in favor of a prisoner in a Section 1983 case would “necessarily imply the invalidity of his conviction or sentence . . . the complaint must be dismissed unless the Plaintiff can demonstrate that the conviction or sentence has already been invalidated.” Id. at 487. Since it decided Heck, the Supreme Court has further stated that “a state prisoner's [Section] 1983 action is barred (absent prior invalidation)-no matter the relief sought (damages or equitable relief), no matter the target of the prisoner's [Section] 1983 suit (state conduct leading to conviction or internal prison proceedings)” where “success in that action would necessarily demonstrate the invalidity of confinement or its duration.” Wilkinson v. Dodson, 544 U.S. 74, 81-82. Accordingly, this claim is dismissed from this case; the Plaintiff needs to make this argument in a habeas corpus petition or appropriate state court procedure.


         The Plaintiff is granted leave to file an amended complaint to cure the deficiencies of the complaint. If the Plaintiff chooses to file an amended complaint, the Court advises him that an amended complaint replaces the original complaint, so the amended complaint must be complete in itself. See Hal Roach Studios, Inc. v. Richard Feiner & Co., Inc., 896 F.2d 1542, 1546 (9th Cir. 1989). The Plaintiff's amended complaint must contain all claims, defendants, and factual allegations that The Plaintiff wishes to pursue in this lawsuit. Moreover, The Plaintiff should ...

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